The WSB sniffs Tulbagh’s sea breezes

Oh dear. The Wine and Spirit Board Demarcation Committee have taken three years to come up with more or less the same pathetically incomplete plan to replace the notoriously stupid “Cape Coastal” Region with something more usefully related to basic geography and the plausible influence of the ocean on winemaking. Surely the only reason for the long delay and the lack of useful progress is that they’ve yet again allowed politics to stymie them. Politics in wine business usually means that the big boys – Distell, KWV and some of the co-ops/former co-ops – don’t want things to change too much. My educated guess, anyway. The WSB is not prone to independent thought, let alone to acting on it.

In July 2011, in a blog hopefully entitled “Tidying up the Coastline”, I wrote about the Demarcation Committee considering extending the concept behind the welcome new Cape South Coast Region. There would be two new regions, I reported: Cape West Coast and Cape Coast. Trouble was that the authorities still seemed intent on including Paarl and Tulbagh in these “coastal” regions – both of them winelands with no meaningful connection with the Atlantic (let alone the Indian!).

So, the Board and its Committee have been plunged into thought about it all for three years (just possibly pondering objections submitted, including mine) and … they’ve come up with basically the same idea. Though apparently, even now, they’re still “considering” it all. It’s easiest to see the proposals (and their absurdity) from the maps below.

The top map shows the existing regions. The map below it shows the proposed Cape West Coast (including inland Tulbagh and rather too much of the Swartland) and Cape Coast (including Paarl and Wellington – which together with Tulbagh at present form the region of Boberg, only used for fortified wines; this will disappear and about time too). You will see that some of the Olifants River region (notably Lutzville valley) has very reasonably been included in the Cape West Coast.  Three years ago I suggested that Paarl and Tulbagh should become part of a “Cape Inland” region – possibly also including Olifants River.

There’s also a proposal to include all of these so-called “coastal regions” into a “geographical area” (like Western Cape, Northern Cape, Natal, etc) called Western Cape Coastal Area, which will allow for a fairly meaningful large area for blends. Meaningful, that is, except for the inclusion of those emphatically inland areas.

Can anything be done about this all? Only, perhaps, if enough people point out to the Board that it is retrogressive and in defiance of all viticultural or geographical logic to include unquestionably inland areas in “coastal” regions.

The Director of Regulatory Services for the WSB has invited “comments or questions regarding these proposals”. The person to contact is Hugo van der Merwe ( or 021 889 6555). I hope he gets deluged with objections from those who care more about the integrity of the Wine of Origin Scheme than the WSB seems to.

The existing wine regions of the Western Cape

The proposed new Coastal regions for the Western Cape winelands


5 thoughts on “The WSB sniffs Tulbagh’s sea breezes

  1. I think I know what the problem is. I’ve heard rumours that an investigation of The Wine and Spirit Board Demarcation Committee revealed a total of two brain cells found between their members. That’s one more than the amount of testicles found. But, like I’ve said, it’s just a rumour and probably devoid of all truth (it’s clearly unlikely that any proper investigation could have unearthed all of that).

  2. Personally I see no reason why we dont just use districts and wards. Consumers (and I am talking about the 99.99 %) out there can not care less or tell you what Coastal vs Western Cape means, or care. They know where Stellenbosch, Robertson, Paarl, Elgin etc is, and for 25% that might matter. Make the whole bunch western cape if it doesn’t fall under a defined district. My ten cents worth.

  3. You have a point, Francois, but not quite enough of one. If we can make regions that actually have some meaning and would be useful to producers and wine-drinkers, let’s do it. Cape South Coast is one such, I’d suggest. Cape West Coast might be too. Cape Interior (which I’d suggest for the inland districts like Paarl and Tulbagh) would also be meaningful.

    I would find it signified more if I saw a sauvignon blanc tagged as Cape South Coast that if it were tagged as Western Cape (which could mean that it came from a blend of Olifants River and Breedekloof grapes). Don’t you agree?

    I’m told by James Reid, who buys millions of international litres for Accolade, that declaring a proper origin is increasingly important (even if people often don’t know where or what it is), so let’s try to create larger-area appellations that have logic and respectability, and not cynical lies, behind them.

  4. Completely agree with letting logic dictate fact, but we both know that rarely happens- for how many years has one of the most neutral grapes masquerade as a Riesling….?
    Surely Coastal must have a scientific parameter, be it distance or clear oceanic influence.

  5. One stands amused at the debate about an old fashioned term like ‘coastal region’.Climatic data and harvesting dates of most of the coastal region’s vineyards indicates to no maritime influence at all.
    Terroir is a complex term and certainly influenced by a lot more than just the ocean.The single biggest influence on grape composition is how long it takes to ripen; in other words hanging time on the vine.This also determines the time of year grapes are picked.
    Harvesting end of March is certainly preferable to doing so in January or Feb.
    I agree with Francois – drop the ‘coastal region’ and use only districts and wards.

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